How credit unions can embed DEI into strategy

Organizations can’t treat diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) as a side project and achieve meaningful change. Successful initiatives require commitment and support from senior leadership, an understanding of the business need and required investment, and clear DEI strategy and aspirations. 

So say Jackie Wong, associate partner and senior DEI expert at McKinsey, and Jonathan Njus, director for family economic security and expanding equity program lead at WK Kellogg Foundation. They addressed the DEI Roundtable Wednesday at America’s Credit Union’s 2024 Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington, D.C. 

America’s Credit Unions President/CEO Jim Nussle reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to DEI. “At America’s Credit Unions, it’s a priority to do our part to advance DEI initiatives via advocacy, education, networking, and working with system partners,” said Nussle, reminding attendees that DEI is the U.S. credit union movement’s eighth cooperative principle. “There’s a lot to do, but we’ll do it the credit union way: together.” 

Organizations that struggle with DEI cite limited staff capacity, insufficient resources, and a lack of engagement and support from middle managers, Wong said. “These are all interrelated. We need to get leaders to understand why they need DEI, and that it’s good for business and people.” 

“Make DEI everyone’s job,” Njus added. “It’s a business strategy that requires active participation by leaders across the organization. Diversity in and of itself isn’t enough. You need inclusion and belonging as part of it to make sure you retain your talent.” 

Njus and Wong offered five enablers to embed DEI into organizational strategy: 

1. Leadership commitment and action: meaningful engagement from senior leaders, as well as middle managers and supervisors who visibly commit to and support DEI efforts. 

2. Clear DEI strategy and aspirations: defined goals, objectives, and metrics that guide the prioritization of effort. 

3. Sufficient resources and capacity: dedicated budget, resources, and capacity from leaders with the necessary knowledge and capabilities to execute the DEI strategy. 

4. Investment and business imperative: an understanding of the business imperative for DEI efforts, the organizational case for change, and the need for resource investment. 

5. An externally supportive environment: stakeholders (e.g., customers, community, investors, peers) inquire about or expect DEI progress, generating increased conviction internally. 

“People ask me, ‘what are the five things I should do to succeed with DEI?’ But every organization is different—your five things are different than any other company’s five things,” Wong said. “Think about the problem you’re trying to solve and what makes your company tick. Figure out what will actually work for you.” 

America’s Credit Unions’ 2024 GAC concludes today as attendees continue to meet with lawmakers directly on Capitol Hill. This week in Washington, D.C., nearly 6,000 credit union advocates came together for the first time as America’s Credit Unions to tout the credit union difference and elevate industry priorities. 

Access coverage from the full event online, or follow #GAC2024 on social media. 

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